According to the Washington Post there’s an “e-book goldrush” taking place. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/novel-rejected-theres-an-e-book-gold-rush/2011/04/09/AFZdqb9F_story.html Much to my surprise, I find I’m one of the prospecting authors who has found gold.
You probably won’t have heard of me, but I’m a respectably-selling, award-winning, mid-list author of contemporary women’s fiction. Two years ago I was dropped by my publisher. “Disappointing sales” was the reason given. I was in good company. A lot of mid-list authors – some well-known names – were dropped as the recession bit deep. Editors wanted début novels, genre fiction and books by celebrities – all of which are easier to promote than “the latest rattling good yarn by X”. (That sort of tag is only used when the author in question sells in Grisham and Picoult quantities.)
After two years of my agent’s best efforts, we still hadn’t found a publisher for my fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE. Editors liked the book, but said it would be hard to market as it belonged to no clear genre. They had a point. HOUSE OF SILENCE is a country house mystery/family drama/gothic rom-com/love story. Or to put it another way, COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA.
It was so frustrating. I had a considerable, worldwide following and my loyal fans had been waiting for a new novel for three years. I’d managed to keep myself in the public eye by chatting on book forums, writing guest blogs and offering book giveaways. I had a ready-made (modest) market for my new novel, but no one wanted to publish it.
Then came the e-book revolution. Self-publishing on Kindle was the answer to a disgruntled author’s prayer. I wasn’t desperate to see my name on a book cover or on a shelf in Waterstones. (Been there, done that.) I didn’t even care if I made money, so long as I broke even. No, this was about letting a book find its readers, who I felt sure would love my story and characters as much as I did.
So with my agent’s approval, I decided to publish HOUSE OF SILENCE myself as a Kindle e-book. http://www.amazon.co.uk/HOUSE-OF SILENCE/dp/B004USSPN2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=A3TVV12T0I6NSM&qid=1301733772&sr=1-2 It sells for only £1.90 and believe it or not, I make a lot more per copy sold than I did from my paperbacks. Readers think authors are giving e-books away at humiliatingly low prices, or they suspect books that cheap can’t possibly be any good, but the appalling irony is, authors are making more money e-publishing – much more. If one of my £7.99 paperbacks sold in Waterstones, I used to get about 50p. (Much less if it sold on Amazon.) Selling HOUSE OF SILENCE at £1.90, I get 70% of the pre-VAT Amazon price.
This is why some established authors are moving away from mainstream to e-publishing, like disenchanted US author Barry Eisler http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-03-24/barry-eisler-explains-self-publishing-decision/# who turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish his next thriller as an e-book. Eisler believes he can make more money in the long term by e-publishing, but he also wanted artistic control.
I sympathise. Total artistic control of HOUSE OF SILENCE has been a heady experience for me. Two out of three of my previous novels were, in my opinion, sunk by unattractive covers, so this time I paid a professional designer to produce a cover to (oh joy!) my specifications. There were no headless people. No supermodel legs. No illegible fonts. Just a cover that made a clear statement about the content of the book. (A spooky old mansion under a lowering sky. An oldie, but a goodie.) But because I lashed out on a professional cover, I needed to sell 100 copies to make a profit.
I went into profit on Day 2 (My italics - Elaine)
I sold 3000 copies in 6 weeks. (No publisher could guarantee the sale of 3000 copies of any book by an unknown like me. They wouldn’t even print 3000 in the first place. Too risky.) As I write, HOUSE OF SILENCE has spent 21 days in the Top 100 paid-for e-books (that’s all genres) and is currently ranked #47. It’s ranked #11 in Romance.
So what did I do right? Could anyone do it?
Well, yes and no. I signed up with Kindle Direct Publishing on the Amazon.com site https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help and followed my nose. It certainly isn’t difficult to e-publish. You only have to look at a few sample chapters on Amazon to realise that publishing an e-book is a lot simpler than writing one, or even editing it. There’s no denying there’s a lot of dross out there, but it’s not difficult to make sure your e-book shines like a good deed in a naughty world.
You need a properly formatted doc to start with. To judge from the KDP forums, some authors have problems when they try to upload scruffy manuscripts with dodgy formatting. (Kindle doesn't do different fonts, but will do italic and bold.) The system converted my Word doc into something I could view on the Kindle previewer on my PC. (You don’t have to own a Kindle to e-publish or even read Kindle books. You can download a free Kindle app for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry.) When I was happy with the preview version, I uploaded my book to the Kindle site. 48 hours later, it was on sale. And selling.
I’m doing well with HOUSE OF SILENCE thanks to my cover, price and blurb (the promotional material that appears alongside the book on Amazon.) Lots of readers have mentioned the cover and said that the blurb ticked a lot of boxes. Some readers have told me they bought HoS on the strength of the “COLD COMFORT FARM meets REBECCA” tag line.
Your e-book cover is your shop window and it has to work as a thumbnail. Do your research on Amazon and look at which covers work in miniature. Study the relevant genres. If your book is to find its readers, you must position it where they’ll find it. (KDP ask you to allocate your book to specific genre listings. Bear in mind the competition if you assign your book to Literary Fiction.) Tags are also important. The more you include, the easier your book will be to find and the more likely you are to sell.
Price is a key factor. Remember, you’re competing with a lot of free books and they’re not all unpunctuated porn. Some are by Dickens, the Brontës and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Many Amazon e-book reviews refer to price and value for money. Some e-book readers are feeding a book-a-day habit. Asking them to pay more than £2/$3 is asking quite a lot. (You can set a different price on Amazon UK and Amazon US and you can change that price if you think you got it wrong.) It’s a fact that if you sell cheaply, you’ll sell more. If you don’t price cheaply, you might not sell at all. If your e-book doesn’t take off, try reducing the price or even making it free for an advertised “limited period only”. Once your book is selling, Amazon will take over the marketing with its rankings system. Eventually your e-book sells because it’s selling.
I already had a following. I know my readers and I know what they like, so I knew how to market my book. I knew the novel’s odd mix of genres didn’t mean it was uncommercial, simply that it was tricky to market. But with an e-book, the author markets directly to readers, who just want a good story. Publishers have to market to retailers who have completely different criteria, based on astronomic sales figures and famous names. My healthy e-book sales are the end product of six years’ interaction with readers on the internet. Since I was first published in 2005, I’ve engaged in blog and forum discussions, I’ve been conscientious about keeping in touch with readers and frank about my publishing difficulties. I’ve used my Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Linda-Gillard/148890999324?v=wall&ref=mf and my website www.lindagillard.co.uk to keep fans informed and it’s all paid off. When it came to publication day, we had an impromptu launch party for HOUSE OF SILENCE on Facebook. My lovely, loyal readers bought the book, Tweeted, blogged and plugged it online, so it was selling in a matter of hours.
But a word of caution: if you’re a new author or you’re not a confident user of the internet, it would be much harder to make a go of it. There are plenty of inspiring success stories like mine (see all the comments here http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/self-publishing-the-conversations-in-romance/ ), but do bear in mind that the vast majority of self-published e-books do not sell.
It’s hard to see now why I would go back to orthodox publishing, apart from my emotional attachment to paper books. I'd be lucky to sell 3000 paper books in a year, let alone six weeks. My agent says we need a paper book to secure foreign sales and I’d love a print edition of HOUSE OF SILENCE so I could do library and bookshop promotions. (I do like to meet my readers in person.) And I don’t believe anyone’s solved the problem yet of how you sign an e-book. Some readers have taken me to task for “discriminating” against those who dislike reading on screen or who don’t want to invest in a Kindle, but I didn’t have any choice. It was e-book or bust. My goals were to give my fans a new, affordable book and to find new readers. Self-publishing a print book would not have achieved either goal and it could have taken me a long time to break even.
I’m now planning to e-publish two more books from my out of print backlist this summer (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and A LIFETIME BURNING) and I have a new novel currently doing the rounds in manuscript, which might become e-book No.4. It’s getting the same response from editors as HOUSE OF SILENCE: they love the book, but it would be tough to market.
Tough for them maybe, but not for me. I listen to my readers. I am a reader. We share a passion for intelligent, well-written stories about believable, fascinating characters. It’s a genre that never goes out of fashion and if that’s hard to market, then there’s something seriously wrong with print publishers. If you ask me, they’ve lost the plot.
My thanks to Linda for this post which I think is fascinating and, I hope, helpful and informative for any of you out there who might be thinking of taking the plunge into e-publishing.